MCMURRAY – Alec Rideout’s newfound maturity can be traced back to, of all places, Italy.
When the Latin Club at Canon-McMillan High School traveled overseas shortly after the track and field season had begun, Rideout, along with assistant coach Joe Grosso, found an abandoned park in Sorrento to work on footwork for the shot put and discus.
Such a routine, as out of place as it might have seemed, represented a significant turnaround in Rideout’s life, one that saw him morph from a young thrower with talent but an attitude problem, to one extremely dedicated to his craft.
“I don’t like to miss work, because it makes it harder when you come back,” Rideout said. “I like to stay on pace.”
Lately, that’s been a pace few others can match.
Rideout won three events at Saturday’s Washington-Greene County Coaches Track and Field Championships at Peters Township High School, taking first in the javelin (158 feet, 6 inches), shot put (51-10) and discus (157-8).
The distances were so impressive – or intimidating, depending on how you look at it – that when Rideout chucked the discus into a suddenly sunny sky, Grosso stopped in the middle of a conversation to admire the toss.
Other competitors, meanwhile, joked that they were done. No need to compete with that.
“Once he started showing he had the ability to do it and doing the things that he was coached to do, he turned himself totally around,” Grosso said of Rideout, a junior who has quickly become a favorite of not only the coach but his wife, who also was a chaperone on the Italy trip.
Rideout said what triggered the transformation occurred the day of last year’s WPIAL finals. For whatever reason, he said he was under the impression he could go to school late; obviously, Canon-McMillan administrators did not agree.
He showed up late, barely in enough time to be allowed to compete and wound up throwing 49-7 1/2 in the shot put – well below the cut to qualify for the PIAA championships.
“I changed completely after that,” Rideout said. “Not making it to states hurt me – a lot.”
Rideout started showing up regularly to practice, caring about his technique and cutting out the bulk of his mid-practice conversations. He now watches YouTube videos to analyze technique, has become more focused in the weight room and, perhaps most important, refused to stop practicing while brushing up on his Latin.
“It’s not as important to throw the shot put or discus, but you have to get that technique down,” Grosso said. “He never lost his technique. By the time we got back, he picked up right where he left off.”
Rideout’s new, narrowed focused has produced a 30-foot spike in his discus throws. His shot put numbers are nearing the school record. And his javelin, even though he only throws when seriously challenged – the byproduct of a previous shoulder injury – well, Rideout has seen that number increase by at least 10 feet over last year.
Still, as recently as the Italy trip, Grosso wasn’t convinced.
Members of Canon-McMillan’s team voted Rideout a captain, but Grosso had his doubts. He talked it over with head coach Mike Koot, worrying that Rideout wasn’t ready. Koot thought he was. Worst case, Koot figured, the leadership role might provide some positive reinforcement.
“Coach Koop had overruled me – he’s the head coach and for good reason; I hadn’t thought that it would maybe make him mature,” Grosso said. “I think it worked out well for him.
“He’s even become more mature, even in the past month, because of the role of being captain.”
Rideout can only shake his head and laugh when asked what he would have done a year or two ago had he been on the same trip to Pompei, Sorrento, Florence, Siena and Rome.
“I’d probably try to find a way to get out of it,” Rideout said. “That’s the maturity thing that they’re talking about. A lot has changed since then, though.”
Certainly has. Enough that sleeping in on May 16, the morning of the WPIAL track and field finals, won’t be a concern. Finding a laptop to watch his latest throws? Now that’s a different story.
“He wants to analyze everything now,” Grosso said. “It’s been a total 180-degree turn in his maturity level. He’s become so focused on what he wants to do.”